Playing It Cool (2014) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for language and sexual content
Running Time: 94 min.
Cast: Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Topher Grace, Luke Wilson, Aubrey Plaza, Martin Starr, Philip Baker Hall, Anthony Mackie, Ioan Gruffudd, Patrick Warburton, Ashley Tisdale, Matthew Morrison
Director: Justin Reardon
Screenplay: Chris Shafer, Paul Vicknair
Review published February 12, 2015
I remember when this film last year, when it was called What If. It seemed better then. This one claims to be the anti-romantic comedy, and then becomes a prime example of everything people usually despise about them.
Chris Evans (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Snowpiercer) stars as a promising writer who desires to be a big screenwriter for action flicks, but whose boss (Mackie, Black or White) wants him to crank out a romantic comedy to get his feet wet in the industry. Unfortunately, he's not one who believes in love, living much of his life with the feeling of rejection when his mother walks out on him as a young boy to live in another country with her boyfriend. That's when Michelle Monaghan (The Best of Me, Better Living Through Chemistry) walks into his life to turn it upside down, and even more unfortunate, she already is in a relationship. They try to be platonic friends, but it get pretty complicated, to the point where it causes both a lot of anguish and heartache.
Playing It Cool has all of the ingredients necessary to be a successful romantic comedy, from two bankable leads, a very impressive supporting cast of recognizable actors, some very witty writing, punchy direction, and good use of locales around the (arguably) most romantic city in the U.S., San Francisco. And yet, even with all of the right ingredients, sometimes they're all for naught when the recipe is not a good one.
The main problem with the film is that it features an unlikeable main character, who is a narcissist who can't seem to keep his emotions in check, or respect any boundaries. Plus, he lies his way into the relationship, and has no qualms about trying to wreck someone else's relationship, even though we aren't given much depth to their love other than his attraction that encroaches into infatuation. He can't take no for an answer, and is willing to deceive and even have physical altercations with someone who happens to probably also be in love with the same woman, and we're supposed to root him on?
Actually, it also has irritating supporting characters as well -- every single one of them, idealized and jokey. He leans on them for advice, and the only advice they ever seem to give is to echo what he already feels -- he is acting like a pussy and is really needy. Meanwhile, nearly all of them are unsuccessful being in relationships of their own. And the one likeable character of the film -- the only one with a sense of integrity -- well, she ends up not having much resolve at all. I guess the surest way to get into a woman's pants after she tells you that she can never, ever cross the line with her relationship is to dump frozen creamer and jelly into a bowl of whipped cream and tell her it's ice cream. No lie, it's in this film.
While initially impressed at the crisp comedic writing and the nicely visualized elements of the movie, which includes many digressions into the narrator's mind to imagine himself as the hero in a variety of stories (sci-fi, mythical, and even animated), as the nature of the platonic relationship changes, so too did my feelings regarding the film, as Evans grows more pathetic, while Monaghan determines to try to keep composure that folds like a house of cards at the slightest pressure from Pepe Le Pew's advances. The end of the film becomes every rom-com cliché you've ever seen, made worse by the fact that the screenwriters get meta with it by acknowledging it, yet still feel obligated to try to force a happy ending down your throat. It is neither earned, nor do characters this detestable deserve a hopeful outcome.
If I were to look to Playing It Cool to learn about love, what I'd learn is that I should continue to pursue whatever woman I please, even if she's in a relationship and implores me to stop, because, when it comes right down to it, it's all about me and my needs. Who gives a rip about what she feels, and don't even bother thinking about that other guy who has likely sacrificed a great deal of his time and life, and probably feels even more feelings of real love for her than I could ever dream of from my superficial relationship goofing around with her as a short-term friend. Sadly, I didn't learn about love, but the film does inspire quite a lot of feelings of antipathy, and extreme disdain for shallow, smarmy characters and phony-baloney philosophizing upon the nature of life and love from sources that have little of substance to impart about either.
©2015 Vince Leo